Pinson stars on national stage
Many high school athletes dream about being the best, but few actually experience it.
Theo Pinson, a recent graduate of Wesleyan Christian, is one of the lucky few.
Over his career, he’s combined hard work with natural talent to become one of the best players not only in the area but in the country. His senior season was, in many ways, a time to reap the rewards.
After committing with North Carolina last spring, he signed with the Tar Heels in the fall, helped the Trojans win their second straight state championship, and earned spots in the Under Armour Elite 24, McDonald’s All-American Game and Nike Hoop Summit in the spring.
“It’s just been a dream senior season,” Pinson says. “I had a whole lot of fun with the guys. I wouldn’t have had all the accolades without them, because you can’t do it by yourself.”
The most notable accomplishment was becoming a McDonald’s All-American. Thirty-two players from North Carolina have been selected for the boys team since the event started in 1977, and only two (Winston-Salem’s Chris Paul, Greensboro’s Brendan Haywood) were from the Triad.
So, Pinson, ranked as the No. 10 recruit by ESPN, joined 24 of the country’s top recruits — including all of the top 15 — on April 1 in Chicago’s United Center, during which he had a big dunk that landed him on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.
“You always dream about those moments,” he says. “I know Coach Keith did when he was playing high school ball. You always want to be a McDonald’s All-American – that’s the top. And just being there was great. You want to play well, but just the atmosphere was crazy.”
Pinson was joined in Chicago by some of his closest supporters, including Wesleyan coach Keith Gatlin, who was a McDonald’s All-American in 1983 out of D.H. Conley in Greenville. For him to see one of his players take the court on that stage was a special moment.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” says Gatlin, who played at Maryland and later played professionally. “It’s a blessing for me to coach a player of his caliber and the school to have a young man who represents his school well. It’s a surreal feeling.
“Next year, it’s going to be even more fun with a guy at Florida State (Montay Brandon) and a guy at Carolina. It’s going to be the best of the best. You know his psyche, you know Montay’s psyche. So, to see them play against each other and know they’re both from Wesleyan is a blessing.”
A couple weeks after the McDonald’s American Game, Pinson also played in the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, Oregon, where he teamed with players like future Duke rival Jahlil Okafor and future Carolina teammate Joel Berry for USA Basketball against the World Select Team.
Pinson, who also won the Elite 24 dunk contest in the fall by jumping over his mom, has known many of the other players for many years. So, to play with them as they prepare for college was a good stepping stone for some of what they’ll face at the next level.
“It’s really fun, just knowing that when you pass the ball it’s to someone who’s good just like you,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about, ‘I’ve got to get the ball back because I don’t know what they’re going to do with it.’ It just makes the game a lot easier, makes it more fun to play.
“That’s how it’s going to be in college, so that’s helped us prepare for that. Honestly, everybody who was there took the game seriously. So, you had to play every possession or you’d look bad on national TV. Everyone’s good, so you’ve got to play hard.”
Now, after playing well his senior season in which Wesleyan had to overcome several hurdles to win the NCISAA 3A title, Pinson, who also played in the Josh Level Classic recently, looks forward to leaving for Chapel Hill later this month and beginning his college career.
“It’s very exciting,” he says. “I’m just ready to get on campus and get used to college life. I’m just ready for that first game. That first game’s going to be crazy. It’s going to feel so weird. I know it’s a long process until then, so mentally I’m just getting myself ready for that.
“It’s going to be a blessing because of all the work I’ve put in to get to a college like that and a situation like that. It’s going to be crazy. I probably won’t know until I get there, but it’s going to be unreal.”